Broken: A Novel

( 10 )


Until that fateful afternoon, Skunk Cunningham had been a normal little girl, playing on the curb in front of her house. Rick Buck­ley had been a normal geeky teen­ager, hosing off his brand-new car. Bob Oswald had been a normal sociopathic single father of five slutty daughters, charging furiously down the side­walk. Then Bob was beating Rick to a bloody pulp, right there in the Buckleys' driveway, and life on Drummond Square was never the same again.

Inspired by Harper Lee's ...

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Until that fateful afternoon, Skunk Cunningham had been a normal little girl, playing on the curb in front of her house. Rick Buck­ley had been a normal geeky teen­ager, hosing off his brand-new car. Bob Oswald had been a normal sociopathic single father of five slutty daughters, charging furiously down the side­walk. Then Bob was beating Rick to a bloody pulp, right there in the Buckleys' driveway, and life on Drummond Square was never the same again.

Inspired by Harper Lee's classic To Kill a Mockingbird, Clay's brilliantly observed and darkly funny novel follows the sudden unraveling of a sub­urban community after a single act of thoughtless cruelty.

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Editorial Reviews

Scott Heim
“This intense and intricate novel charts the fascinating, often frightening lives of three families in suburban Britain. Daniel Clay shows a masterful empathy for his characters, while never shying from their frailties and agonies. BROKEN is surprising, shocking, and cruelly funny at times. It’s an unforgettable book.”
Amy Bryant
“Daniel Clay tells the truth about childhood in the modern world, and captures all the elements of a great novel: suspense, desperation, love, and death.”
The Observer
“It’s funny and sad and moving.”
The Guardian
“Bold, prescient, engaging.”
The Independent
“Clay’s debut novel is remarkably controlled and disciplined as it depicts those who spiral out of control.... Clay succeeds in inciting pity even for a murderer [and his] triumph is in exploring the kindness and love that might heal and restore – and what it is to feel fully alive.”
Publishers Weekly

English writer Clay's disjointed debut traces the story of Skunk Cunningham, an 11-year-old girl living with her father, brother and au pair. One day, Skunk watches as local thug Bob Oswald beats teenager Rick Buckley. Bob, whose five daughters go to school with Skunk, is one-dimensionally horrible and has no qualms about bullying kids or teachers as he protects his daughters. Skunk and crew, meanwhile, spend their days in school steering clear of the Oswald girls, who are as psycho as their father. Between bouts of violence, things in the British suburb are quiet, and Rick becomes a virtual prisoner in his home, only to later emerge as a "broken" and violent beast. The novel is nearly plotless and overflows with generalized nastiness, and the grim proceedings, while initially discomforting, don't do anything except pile on and become banal. (Sept.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061561047
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/9/2008
  • Series: P.S. Series
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 834,539
  • Product dimensions: 5.20 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel Clay lives in Hedge End, England, with his wife, Alison. His short stories have been published in Writers' Forum, The Ashes, and World Wide Writers in the UK. Broken is his first novel.

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Read an Excerpt

‘Skunk, Skunk. Wake up, beautiful darling.’

Archie, my father, holds both my hands as he says this. I sense his words rather than hear them:
‘Skunk, Skunk. Wake up, beautiful darling.’

I also sense his life now.

It seeps through his palms into my palms. It deadens the blood in my veins. My heartbeat slows. I shudder. Poor old Archie. This is the way that his life is. I see it. I feel it. I know it. Tonight, from midnight through to two in the morning, he will sit all alone in the front room and watch a video of the day I was born. Almost twelve years ago now. There I am. You can see me. A wrinkled pink sack of flesh that does little but lie on its back with tubes feeding into its nostrils. Not a lot different to now then. Here I lie, on my back, with tubes feeding into my nostrils. But tonight I will be a newborn. All that hope. All that promise. Poor old Archie. He’ll sit all alone and he’ll watch me. He’ll drink and he’ll think, how did it happen? How did it end up like this? Then he’ll go to the bed that he shares with Cerys and listen to her crying. He’ll cry a little himself.

Finally, he will sleep and dream that the harsh ringing sound by his bedside is the Royal Hampshire County Hospital phoning to say I am dead. He will sit up, gasping, but it won’t be his phone that is ringing, it will be his alarm clock, and it will be time to get up, go to work.

In work, Archie will sit at his desk and recoil every time the phone rings, then he’ll rush here to see me.

‘Skunk, Skunk. Wake up, beautiful darling. Don’t you leave me. Don’t youdare.’

All of this will happen. I know for sure it will happen. I know everything now. Especially about Broken Buckley. Poor old Broken Buckley.Hunched over his mother’s corpse.Hands pressed to his temples.How and why? Oh how and why? His story started with Saskia Oswald: Broken loved Saskia Oswald. Had. Once. Loved. Saskia. Oswald. But Saskia Oswald never loved him. She just loved his car. She said, Hey, soldier, fancy taking me for a ride? Did he? Oh, did he. Poor old Broken Buckley. He was nineteen years old and a virgin, the sort of guy who spits when he speaks, just little flecks of saliva that hang in the air and distract you from whatever he’s saying. Saskia Oswald ate him for breakfast — ate him up and then spat him out. Not enough for her though. She had to tell everyone about it, and that’s when it started for him.

‘Skunk, please, God, blink, just blink if you can hear me . . . we’re here, darling. We’re all here beside you.’

It didn’t finish there though. It never does with the likes of the Oswalds. They’re the family in one of the Housing Association properties on the opposite side of the square. Single parent. Lots of children. Music all hours of the night. Bin bags in the front garden. Portsmouth FC flags hanging from the windows. Maori-style tattoos on overdeveloped biceps. This is Bob Oswald. The father.

Bob Oswald. The father.

The first time I saw him hitting someone, I was coming up ten years old.

It was summer, hot, and Rick Buckley was washing the car his father had bought him as a present for passing his driving test. Skunk Cunningham was skipping on the tarmac drive that had once been their front garden. Other than Skunk and Rick, Drummond Square was empty.

The attack happened out of nowhere. Skunk didn’t hear anyone speaking. She didn’t hear anyone shouting. The first thing she heard was the scream: it was high-pitched, like a horse, and before she knew what was happening, Bob Oswald had Rick Buckley in a headlock and was twisting him sideways, like wrestling a bull. The two of them staggered out of the Buckleys’ front garden and into the otherwise empty square. Rick Buckley shouted, Stop it, I haven’t done anything wrong.

Bob Oswald hit him. Not a punch, but a blow with the point of his elbow. It landed in the small of Rick’s back. Rick collapsed to his knees.

. . . .

‘That bloody Bob Oswald,’ Mr Buckley continued. ‘He’s reduced my son to a nervous wreck and got away without even a caution.’

‘You need to go back to the police,Dave.’Archie’s voice rumbled from deep inside his stomach, ‘A vicious attack on a nineteen-year-old boy . . . no matter what Bob Oswald thought he’d been up to . . . they have to do something about that.’

Mr Buckley laughed in a way I found scary. ‘What like? An ASBO? A caution?’

‘It’s GBH at least,’ Archie said after a moment. ‘Bob should be facing prison.’

Mr Buckley’s voice was high and shaky where my father’s was soft and deep. ‘You know better than I do he’ll be facing no more than community service. What’ll probably happen is the police’ll decide to charge me with wasting their time. It’s been an eyeopener,this has. A real bloody shock.’

A long silence followed. Finally, Archie broke it.

‘How’s the boy, anyway?’

Mr Buckley’s voice went from shaky to jumpy. ‘Broken,’ he said. ‘Utterly broken. He reckons he’s never leaving the house again.’

Another silence followed. I was very nearly asleep. It was way, way past my bedtime. Only Archie’s voice kept me awake. ‘He just needs time,’ he said to Mr Buckley. ‘Don’t worry. He’ll be OK.’

But Archie was wrong. Mr Buckley’s son was not OK. Just as he’d said to his father, he stayed inside the house. The car he had been cleaning the day Bob Oswald attacked him stood unused on the drive. The curtains to his room stayed shut.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 12 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2009

    Flawed Story, but a Compelling Read

    There were more than a few problems with this story, and yet despite those obvious flaws, Broken is a compelling read. It is funny and horrible, dramatic and ridiculous all at once. One of the major flaws is that the story begins and ends as a narration by the main character, 11 year old Skunk who appears to be comatose. She can hear and comprehend everything her father is saying to her as he pleads for her to wake up in her hospital room bed; however, we then are told a story from an ominiscent point of view, knowing everything that is going on in the lives of multiple people in a community. Inspired by the characters Scout, Jem, Boo Radley, and Atticus of the Harper Lee classic, To Kill a Mockingbird, Broken tells the chilling tale of a violent, low-class, one-dimensional single father and his five wild daughters and how their thoughtless actions destroy the psyche of an awkward young teenager, and ultimately several other lives around them. There are a lot of unanswered questions. For example, why do the police, the school administrators, and the community at large just seem to turn a blind eye to the Oswald family? As this story takes place in England, a reader might be tempted to believe this is standard behavior in the U.K.--but common sense dictates that it would not be. The Oswald daughter's tauntings of Rick "Broken" Buckley were cruel and the beating from Bob Buckley was vicious, but the police never step in, and it is difficult to understand why Broken Buckley seems to have no resilience, falling so easily into madness. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed this story, finding it difficult at times to put down. What I found most compelling is that the story moves quickly and jumps from the goings in one household to another, always pointing out how oblivious each family is to what is happening only 50' away in another home. How true that is in every neighborhood, which leaves you wondering what life is like behind closed doors at your nearest neighbors--and that we don't ever truly know anyone.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2013


    Hi jay

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2011

    read at on wish

    I read on the back that the author was inspired by Harper lee's To kill a Mockingbird...a book that i absolutely love and so was intrigued by what he had to offer. What I did not expect was in my opinion a rip off of her classic. He couldn't even be bothered to come up with different names for his characters... In this book we have Skunk...sorta close to scout.. The father,Archie?...alot like Atticus. Jem is now jed and instead of boo radley we have broken buckely. Disappointed in this.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 24, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Did not like this book

    The story did not speak to me and did not ring with any realism. The ending bothered me and the story frustrated me. I did not find any dark comedy that was promised on the back of the book. There are so many better British writings that I would recommend to skip this one and move on to the next.

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  • Posted October 31, 2008

    Its "to kill a mockingbird" with a crazy twist, I LOVED IT!!!

    At first I was skeptical reading this book, the characters were too similar to that of Harper Lee's "To Kill A Mocking bird", but I gave the book a chance and kept on reading, and it was not nearly as innocent. The content of the book pulls you in, the craziness of the characters, teen sexuality, child abuse/ neglect, drug use, infidelity...SOOO MUCH MORE!!!<BR/><BR/>Get this book

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2008

    this is a dark bleak character study

    In Southampton eleven year old Skunk Cunningham lives with her father, brother and au pair. Skunk watches bully Bob Oswald batter teenager Rick Buckley a few minutes after beating Rick up badly, Bob reports to the cops that the nineteen years old Buckley raped his thirteen year old daughter Susan. No one messes with one of Oswald¿s five daughters as the patriarch is not concerned with the truth in this case the police Dr. Mortimer affirms Susan is a virgin. Charges were dropped.----------- Skunk avoids the Oswald girls like they have the plague as they are as insane and violent as their dad. Meanwhile Rick is afraid to go outside because he knows Oswald is not through with pummeling him. Finally unable to remain self incarcerated as he is going crazy, Rick reenters society looking for someone to beat up.------------- Although the plot is skeletal, this is a dark bleak character study. The Oswald brood is a fascinating family as Bob¿s argument that Rick harmed his daughter is based on fear she overtly displays he is unable to take responsibility that her fear is of him. However, it is the metamorphosis of Rick from frightened shadow to avenger against those he feels affronted him like the female his age who told him his pecker was microscopic as well as the Oswalds. Not for everyone as the desolation and hopelessness oozes throughout, fans who appreciate the dark side of human interactivity will want to read aptly titled BROKEN.---------- Harriet Klausner

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    Posted January 24, 2010

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    Posted August 14, 2009

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    Posted October 21, 2008

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